Superhero fatigue struck again last night, as Marvel’s Black Panther earned a whopping $75.8 million on its first day, including $25.2m in Thursday previews. That’s the third-biggest superhero opening day in history, behind Avengers ($80m) and Avengers 2 ($84m). It’s the second-biggest pre-summer launch behind Batman v Superman ($81m), the top single day gross for a solo superhero movie and the biggest single day for a movie not helmed by a white male, the eighth-biggest opening day ever and the very biggest single day ever for a non-sequel movie.
It earned $50.6 million on its “pure” Friday (minus the Thursday previews). That is just over/under the likes of Batman v Superman ($53m), Iron Man 3 ($53m), Furious 7 ($50m), The Dark Knight ($49m), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II ($48m), Spider-Man 3 ($48m), Captain America: Civil War ($48m) and Beauty and the Beast ($48m). That’s the biggest “pure Friday” gross for a non-sequel.
The film earned 33.2% of its Friday business on Thursday, which is (thus far) at least as leggy as Captain America: Civil War and any number of mega-openings you can name (Catching Fire earned 35% of its weekend on Thursday). Even if it ends up with a 2x Fri-Sun multiplier (a sad/shameful $152 million Fri-Sun total), you can have a poor weekend multiplier and still have a leggy run if the movie kicks butt, as we saw with The Dark Knight and The Force Awakens. There is a difference between a Twilight sequel pulling a 2x opening weekend multiplier and a Star Wars movie doing likewise.
Black Panther is all-but-guaranteed to displace Deadpool for the biggest Fri-Sun gross in a holiday weekend ($132 million two years ago), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End for the biggest Fri-Mon launch ($153m over Memorial Day weekend in 2007) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith for the biggest four-day launch (a $158m Thurs-Sun weekend in 2005). And when it passes Deadpool, it will have the biggest opening weekend ever for a solo superhero movie that isn’t a sequel. Oh, and a Fri-Sun over $147m gives the movie the biggest Fri-Sun launch for any movie not directed by a white guy, all due respect to James Wan’s Furious 7.
So where does this leave the weekend guestimates? Well, the four-day weekend is going to play around with the guestimates, so bear with me. Just remember, if Disney thought they had a shot at a near-record Fri-Sun frame (like over/under $200 million), they probably wouldn’t have opened it over a holiday weekend. And, yeah, if not for the whole “Monday is a holiday” thing, we may well have been looking at a $200 million+ traditional opening weekend.
If it ends up playing like Dawn of Justice (unlikely) or Avengers: Age of Ultron (less likely but not impossible), it still gets $151-$172 million for the Fri-Sun weekend and around $174-$198m over the long holiday. If it plays like a relatively standard MCU movie (2.5x multiplier), we’re looking at a ridiculous $189.5m Fri-Sun frame, good for the fifth-biggest opening weekend ever Avengers: Age of Ultron ($191m), The Avengers ($207m), Jurassic World ($208m), The Last Jedi ($220m) and The Force Awakens ($248m). By the way, if it gets past $175m (Iron Man 3), it’ll be the biggest solo superhero launch ever.
If it plays like Deadpool or Fifty Shades of Grey (which both had Valentine’s Day boosts on Saturday but also had R-ratings and played strictly 2D), it ends up right over/under $212 million for the Fri-Sun frame. That’s… not realistic at this juncture (it would have to be the leggiest MCU opening ever). Legs like Thor: The Dark World, Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok would be put the film over/under $195m for the Fri-Sun frame.
This is dangerous territory, if only because I don’t want to set expectations too high and I don’t want fans to get disappointed if it “only” earns $150-$170 million over the Fri-Sun weekend. But with an A+ Cinemascore (and a 50/50 split among male and female viewers) and hype running super-duper high… well, yeah… (insert that Chadwick Boseman “boom” gif HERE).
We all know why this is happening. Ryan Coogler’s MCU movie, co-written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, is the event movie of a generation for moviegoing audiences yearning to see a big-budget comic book action fantasy blockbuster starring a cast mostly made up of folks who look more like Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong'o than Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman. No, it’s not the first black-led comic book superhero movie or the first relatively big-budget blockbuster with a black leading man (or even a majority minority ensemble cast), but it’s still a huge deal.
It helps that the movie is very good and filled with buzzy elements (the 007-ish action, Michael B. Jordan’s heartbreaking baddie, the likes of Nyong’o, Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira kicking butt and earning laughs, etc.), racially-specific politics (that’s a compliment) and Afrofuturistic content. Coogler is coming off the acclaimed Fruitvale Station and Creed, so it’s like when Chris Nolan went from Memento to Insomnia to Batman Begins. Except, all due respect, Creed > Insomnia and this was the first Black Panther movie ever as opposed to the fifth Batman movie in 16 years.
The MCU is on a roll of late in terms of crowd-pleasing movies and big flicks that feel outside-the-box in terms of conventional super heroics and in terms of auteuristic intent on a blockbuster canvas. At this point, Marvel is arguably the most trusted brand in the business, especially in the realm of live-action blockbuster filmmaking. Unlike, for example, Wonder Woman, there was the pre-release presumption that the movie would be at least pretty good, as it wasn’t preceded by three relatively disappointing comic book superhero offerings.
Walt Disney let the embargo drop early enough to affect the pre-release tracking, which meant that the buzz and excitement had nowhere to go but up for the last three weeks. Oh, and a weak January for new releases didn’t hurt either, as folks can only see The Last Jedi, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and The Greatest Showman so many times. So, with a $75.8 million opening day, a likely $175-$185m Fri-Sun weekend and a $205-$215m Fri-Mon launch, yeah, this is every bit the cultural event, thus far anyway, that we all hoped it would be.